Pride Month: Communicating LGBT+ inclusion in sport

June is a time for celebration, reflection and protest for LGBT+ people. How can sports organisations best show their support? Access Pride resources and learn about our webinar…

By Jon Holmes

Pride Month is an ideal opportunity for governing bodies, organisations and clubs across sport to reinforce their commitment to LGBT+ inclusion.

June is always a special time of year for LGBT+ people but the pandemic continues to cause physical parades, festivals and marches to be cancelled or postponed. Many in the community and their allies are again marking Pride 2021 with online and virtual events.

Sports Media LGBT+ has previously delivered an informative webinar at the invitation of Pride Sports UK and the Sport and Recreation Alliance that explains Pride and how sports can best acknowledge its importance to a broad audience. It’s one of many virtual workshops and presentations we’ve given in the last couple of years.

UPDATE – For 2021, we’ve refreshed the Pride material and it can now be adapted to suit a range of different sports and objectives.

Thanks to our friends at LGBT+ in horseracing network Racing With Pride for inviting us to present this to people from across the racing community in May. See events happening in June on our Calendar.

“Our ‘Preparing for Pride’ webinar was a huge success thanks to Sports Media LGBT+. Jon gave everyone the confidence to communicate about LGBT+ inclusivity while encouraging and challenging everyone to go beyond the basics. Many organisations across horseracing are now proactively planning their own activity for Pride month.”

Rose Grissell, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, British Horseracing Authority

“It was fantastic to see the level of engagement the webinar received from all corners of the horseracing industry. There is a genuine desire to further the sport’s understanding and activity in this area and the webinar has helped to give organisations the confidence to take the next steps in engaging more fully with Pride month and LGBT+ inclusion more broadly.”

David Letts, member of Racing With Pride and the Diversity in Racing Steering Group

It can be challenging for those in sports media and comms roles to talk about inclusion work and the contributions which lesbian, gay, bi and trans people make.

However, taking on that challenge and producing content that demonstrates inclusion is of enormous benefit to all involved – it reassures LGBT+ people and allies within the organisation, attracts new audiences from both groups, and reflects positively on those who are responsible for the work.

The Sports Media LGBT+ Pride webinar was initially developed from a resources pack we produced in February 2020 titled ‘Rainbow Ready’ – a document of strategy advice and guidelines for anyone in a media and comms role in sport.

We also produced a bespoke four-page document to help our media colleagues navigate their own path through Pride Month and produce a message that’s suitable for their sport. A big thank you to Jen Watts Design for bringing it to life!

Check out the document – it’s free to download and share!

SMLGBTTipsForPrideMonth

Your Questions Answered

Following the Pride Sports / SRA webinar, we received several questions. Below are our responses. If you’ve got any queries, please drop us a line at info@sportsmedialgbt.com

“If you’re an LGBT+ inclusive club, how do you appeal to non-binary / transgender people without feeling like you’re singling them out?”

Non-binary and trans people are going to be looking out for those specific words within your comms, or variations on terminology – it’s only natural.

A great example of how to communicate this effectively is provided by Goal Diggers FC. The club states on social

“We aim to make football available and accessible to all women and non-binary people, regardless of experience or ability.”

Goal Diggers FC

In the ‘About’ section of their website, club founder Fleur Cousens says simply: “The main aim of GDFC is to show that football doesn’t need to be gendered – football is a sport for everyone.”

Here’s some advice on what you can do to reach non-binary and trans people…

  • Make sure a Google search for your club name and the words ‘non-binary’ and ‘trans’ produces a result that communicates a welcoming message
  • Consider adapting your logo or some of the graphics that you use to incorporate the colours of the trans pride flag and/or the non-binary pride flag
  • Invite someone in your club or your sport who is trans or non-binary to talk about their experiences in a blog post or short film which you can share across your channels or newsletter

“How can we engage people in the LGBT+ community who are black / from diverse ethnic communities?”

This point was raised midway through our webinar, with images related to inclusive comms and personal stories up to that point having featured only white athletes (representation did subsequently follow). It’s true that there aren’t as many people who are LGBT+ and out in British sport who are also black / from diverse ethnic communities, but this is changing. For example, the Athletics Pride Network – featured in our webinar – reflects the strong representation of black athletes in track and field.

For a variety of reasons, people who are LGBT+ and who are black / from diverse ethnic communities may feel less comfortable than their white counterparts about being visible. Recognising both this and your own objective to engage more with those communities, try reaching out to a relevant, established non-sports specific group in your area (Stonewall’s website has a great list) and ask them if you can pitch your club or project to their members.

Be clear about your reasons for wanting to engage more with different communities and make accessing a trial session or similar introductory experience as easy as possible for anyone who’s interested in learning more. Have an email template ready that you can adapt and send out; keep up the conversation through follow-up messages; and ensure your potential new recruits are added to mailing lists, group chats etc in a timely fashion.

“How do you deal with negative feedback towards trans athletes on social media? How should you reply? What terminology is best to use?”

Depending on the social media platform, this negative feedback could manifest in different ways – on Facebook, it could be negative emoji reactions as well as comments, for example.

Firstly, never react or reply in anger – your first response should be to consider hiding the written feedback; this doesn’t alert the person who posted, but does conceal the feedback from anyone else. If you’re on Twitter, you can also mute the user.

If that’s not working for you and the negativity is increasing, the next step to consider is blocking the user. This removes them from interacting with you completely. They will know you’ve done this so you need to think ahead. If the user clearly has very little influence on the social media platform, e.g. very few followers / is an obvious bot or troll, blocking is the best option.

Remember, unless you have a locked account (Twitter and Instagram), your reply – if you make one – will be visible to anyone. If a specific athlete is being discussed, try not to have them tagged into the post, particularly if the negativity is already escalating.

In all social activity on LGBT+ inclusion, we advise responding to positivity with positivity – this amplifies the welcoming messages and pushes negativity away. Check out this excellent Twitter thread by Christian Harrall-Baker, a social media consultant with LiveWire Sport…

Outside of elite sport, the participation of trans and non-binary people is likely to operate on a social model. Make sure you have a thorough knowledge of the applicable inclusion policy for your sport and be prepared to quote this if you make the decision to reply.

Opportunities for trans athletes in elite sport – particularly trans women athletes – vary depending on the sport itself, and policies are still evolving in line with academic research and sports science. You could be communicating on behalf of the governing body or sports organisation. If you feel you must intervene, we suggest moving the discussion towards the existing policy and away from the athlete or athletes in question. Study the policy carefully and be prepared to quote the terminology it uses.

“How do you get hold of trans guidelines within governing bodies, as some are there but people don’t know they exist?”

All governing bodies should make their trans inclusion policies available in the public domain. If you can’t obtain it through their website or an email enquiry, try seeking out help from the Sport and Recreation Alliance, and Pride Sports.

“What are some strong ways to mention one’s club is LGBT+ inclusive, without sounding like it’s virtue signalling?”

We believe the strongest way to demonstrate your club’s LGBT+ inclusivity is through communicating the lived experiences of your LGBT+ members and their allies. Invite them to share their assessments of how inclusive you are as a club and amplify their voices through your channels – blogs, podcasts, short films, and social media.

If you’re not able to do this for whatever reason, consider what evidence is available to you. Does your club have a connection with any LGBT+ organisations? What commitments have you made to inclusion – are these in writing and easily discoverable, such as through your website?

What campaigns or initiatives do you support e.g. Rainbow Laces, Football v Homophobia, Pride Month etc, and have you documented your support for them? LGBT+ people respond positively to all these signals – they communicate an understanding of what inclusion looks like, with substance and action that goes beyond virtue.

For people who react negatively and who question your intentions, remember that you do not need their approval to undertake LGBT+ inclusion work. Mentioning Pride or a similar theme is about more than mere sentiment when you’re able to demonstrate your own commitment to creating a welcoming environment in sport.

Thank you to Pride Sports UK and the Sport and Recreation Alliance for the opportunity to share advice on Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion.

Further reading…

‘Rainbow Ready’: Resources for Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion in Sport

My Pride In Sport – Q&As with four Stonewall Sport Champions – Michael Gunning, John Dickinson-Lilley, Amazin LeThi and Lizzie Williams


Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.

LGBT+ in sports? Your visibility will inspire other people – sharing your story can be hugely rewarding and you don’t have to be famous to make a positive and lasting impact. We encourage you to start a conversation with us, in confidence, and we’ll provide the best advice on navigating the media as part of your journey so that you retain control of your own narrative.

Email jon@sportsmedialgbt.com or send a message anonymously on our Curious Cat.